Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord, preached on Sunday, January 12, 2020, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17)
The four Evangelists all record the life of Christ for us. They proclaim His life, death, and resurrection for us and for our salvation; but each one does it in a unique way. John retells Christ’s life differently from the other three, and Matthew, Mark, and Luke, although similar, have their own differences. But even in the midst of all these differences, all four include Christ’s baptism, because it’s in our Lord’s baptism that we hear His identity proclaimed. The very voice of God announced that Jesus is His Son.
Matthew is straightforward in telling us about Christ’s baptism. He states the facts. John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness, calling people to turn from their sins and baptizing them for repentance. Then one day, Jesus came to also be baptized. But John wouldn’t have it. He even tried to stop Jesus saying, “I need to be baptized by you” (Matt 3:14). Only Matthew includes this interaction between John and Jesus, and it shows that Jesus was sinless.
John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In the Jordan River, John baptized murders and adulterers, liars and thieves. Every single one of them heard God’s Law and they knew they needed His forgiveness, and it was given to them. But not Jesus. He wasn’t a sinner. He was in no need of forgiveness, and John knew it. John knew Jesus was the Christ, so why was He coming to be baptized? Why was the One who was mightier than him coming to be baptized by him?
Even though Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for forgiveness, it was still necessary for Him to fulfill all righteousness. This righteousness is fulfilling God’s plan of salvation. Christ’s baptism was all part of the plan. It was part of Jesus coming to us and standing with us sinners, standing in our place, in those very same waters that washed over murderers and adulterers and liars and thieves. It was part of Him taking our sin upon Himself so that He could suffer the judgement of that sin on the cross for us.
After John baptized Christ, the extraordinary happened. The heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove and rested on Christ. And if that wasn’t amazing enough, the voice of God the Father was heard, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). The Father proclaimed Jesus’ identity. Everything Christ did was according to God’s plan of salvation. His baptism showed who He was. Those waters marked Him as God’s anointed, His Chosen Servant, the Savior of the world.
Jesus’ baptism put Him in our place and it fulfilled God’s promise and prophecy. We heard this promise in the Old Testament reading from Isaiah: “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” (Is 42:1). The descent of the Holy Spirit marked Jesus as the Servant, as the Savior, who’d bring justice to the world. He’s God’s Servant who’d open the eyes of the blind and bring out from the prison those who sit in darkness (Is 42:7).
Christ fulfilled this with His life, death, and resurrection. At His baptism, He stood with sinners. He lived and walked with sinners. God sent His Son to be with sinful people, to stand with us and to stand in our place. In His baptism, Jesus was taking the sin of the whole world upon Himself. He was taking your sin and mine, so that He could carrier them to the cross and give His life to pay for your sin. By dying in your place, Jesus brought justice to the nations.
Justice requires punishment of sin. You break the law, you must pay. Get a ticket for speeding and you have to pay the fine. That’s justice. So too with God’s Law. Trespass God’s Law and you must pay. Your sin requires death. That’s justice. But with great love and mercy, God sent His son to suffer that punishment for you. He died for you. His death is for you. But this death wasn’t the end. Christ rose from the grave defeating death and in this, He fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah. Jesus opened your eyes, eyes that are blinded by sin. Jesus freed you from the dark prison of your sins, from the dungeon of death. Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, because of His resurrection from the dead, you’ve been given eternal life. And that’s what your baptism is all about. It’s about the forgiveness of sins, it’s about everlasting life given to you because Christ has fulfills all righteousness.
Jesus’ baptism was an anointing, a proclamation that He is God’s Son who saves us from sin and death. Your baptism is a means of grace, the way in which God delivers to you the very forgiveness that Christ won on the cross. Your baptism is a connection with His death and resurrection.
Paul rhetorically asked, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom 6:1). Of course not. We shouldn’t sin. We need to give it up. We need to pursue lives that’ve been made new. We need to live lives that reflect the righteousness of Christ that we’ve received in baptism. “We were buried with [Christ] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4).
In your baptism, you’re connected to Christ’s death and resurrection. When those holy waters washed over you, your sinful nature was drowned, it was crucified with Jesus on the cross, and the new you was raised. No longer are you a slave to your sinful nature. No longer do you have to pursue a sinful life. You're a forgiven saint of God. You’re a child of God. That’s your proclaimed identity. You’ve been clothed with Christ’s righteousness. Of course, there are times when we stumble and fall. There are times when we once again submit to our sinful nature. But at those times, we hear God’s Law and we repent. We return to Him, confessing our sins and receive His forgiveness. At these times, we return to our baptism where our sins are forgiven and washed away.
Jesus’ baptism is important. It fulfilled all righteousness. It was part of God’s plan of salvation. Christ’s baptism is connected to the cross. And through your baptism you’re connected to Christ, His cross, and His resurrection. You so closely connected to Jesus that when God looks at you, He sees His beloved Son with whom He is well pleased. That’s why you’re called Christian. Baptized into Christ, you become a little Christ. His righteousness becomes your righteousness. His love becomes your love. His compassion becomes your compassion. His life becomes His life. Baptized in Christ, you’re a child of God, and connected to His Son, He is well pleased with you. In Jesus’ name...Amen.